GROTON — After two long, arduous weeks — the close-but-no-cigar on the road against Marlboro, the mental mistakes and fumbles against Westboro a week ago — the Fitchburg football team got it going and, most importantly, kept it going against host Groton-Dunstable Regional Friday night.
Behind a 269-yard rushing effort out of senior tailback Sal Figueroa and a 101-yard effort by fullback Damien Nadal, the Red Raiders executed like the Big Red Machine of old against the Crusaders as Fitchburg went full- throttle en route to a 42-14 victory.
The win lifts the Red and Gray to 3-4 on the season, and Fitchburg will return to the corner of Circle and Broad for the regular-season finale, a must-win against Worcester South next Friday if FHS is to return to the postseason for the first time in three seasons.
Groton-Dunstable, which travels to Shepherd Hill Regional next week, fell to 3-4. It was the Crusaders’ first loss at home this year.
First-year Raiders head coach and Fitchburg High Hall of Famer Tom DiGeronimo was relieved with the victory.
“We eliminated mistakes, and we did what we were supposed to do. Everyone did their job,” praised DiGeronimo. “When we do that, we’re a good football team. I’m happy for our kids; it’s been a long two weeks.
“We have to take care of our business now and worry about ourselves. That’s the important thing. Our happiness is in our hands and we can’t worry about what everyone else does.”
Third-year Groton-Dunstable bench boss Tom Sousa noted there are things his side needs to improve on.
“They were the better team tonight; coach DiGeronimo had them well-prepared. We had some things work for us, but we had too many breakdowns, too many times where we didn’t play fundamentally sound, and it cost us,” Sousa said.
Fitchburg opened the game in incredible fashion as Figueroa (121 return yards, 390 all-purpose yards, 3 TDs) returned the opening kick 97 yards to the house. The senior found a seam in G-D’s kick team, and he skirted out to the Crusader sideline before turning on the afterburners as he waved toodle-oo.
The point-after gave FHS a 7-0 lead after 15 seconds.
“We needed that one,” DiGeronimo said. “We had one returned against us (recently), so it was good to have one go in our favor today to start the game.”
The Raider defense sent the Crusaders three-and-out on the first official series, and the FHS offense put itself in great field position after two Figueroa runs of 18 and 54 yards.
Figueroa would convert on fourth down; two plays later, Figueroa sprinted up the middle from 10 yards away, running over the Crusader safety before breaking the plane of the goal line.
Damien Saavedra’s kick gave the Red and Gray a two-TD, 14-0 lead.
Groton-Dunstable would pull a score back, as Jack Barry, on a speed sweep play-fake, went up the middle and scored from 5 yards away.
The play-fake on the speed sweep was the sole bit of frustration on Fitchburg’s part, save on two plays where the middle of the defense swarmed quarterback Bradley teDuitis and stopped it cold.
“We struggled with the quarterback,” DiGeronimo noted. “It’s just missed assignments. We’ll work on getting better at that next week.”
Fitchburg made it a two-score game on the next series, responding with a 10-play, 80-yard drive capped off as Andrew Brooks bootlegged right and connected with Caleb Smith to hit paydirt from the Crusader 4.
On the first snap after the kickoff, Mike Nowd stepped into the passing lane and returned teDuitis’s pass 36 yards for the pick six, giving FHS a 28-7 lead early in the second quarter.
G-D cut the deficit in half on the first series of the second half, as Shamus Gelinas (91 yards on 10 carries), who scored five TDs against North Middlesex Regional here in week two, went up the middle and scored from 27 yards away.